Charter's passage up in the air

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By David Giuliani

Las Vegas voters passed a new charter for the city government on Tuesday.

Or did they?

According to city election results, 56 percent of voters supported a 35-page document that would serve as the city’s new constitution.

But local attorney Danelle Smith said she believes that at least 60 percent needed to back the charter to make it a reality. She pointed to a provision in the four-decade-old existing charter that requires a super-majority of 60 percent to pass charter amendments.

Smith, a former city attorney, recommended that the city get an attorney general’s opinion on the issue.

Supporters of the charter, however, say they were seeking to replace the old one, not amend it. They also argue that the city was operating under a state statute that allows communities to pass charters with a simple majority — more than 50 percent.

That’s an opinion held by Charles Rennick, the attorney the city hired to advise the charter commission, the citizens panel that drafted the document.

Interim City Attorney Dave Romero said he would recommend the City Council seek a declaratory judgment from state District Court on the issue, but he said the council has other options. He declined to take a position on whether 50 or 60 percent was needed for passage.

Romero said the council would discuss the matter behind closed doors. Asked why it would be closed, he said it would involve litigation, which is an exemption under the state Open Meetings Act. The litigation would be the city’s own, a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment, Romero said.

But he left open the possibility the council may discuss the issue in public.

Alex Aragon, the vice chairman of the charter commission, said he was mad at the post-election effort to thwart the voters’ will.

“They don’t want people to have a voice. There’s no need to go to District Court. That’s a waste of money,” he said.

Aragon also said both Smith and Romero are opponents of the charter.

Smith acknowledged that had she lived in town, she would have voted against the charter, saying it gives too much power to the mayor.

Before he became interim attorney, Romero took the opposite argument, saying the document would give too little power to the mayor.

In an interview Wednesday, Romero said he would invite others to present arguments to the district judge. He said it is important to get a judicial ruling, so no one, particularly bond attorneys, could challenge the legality of the charter later.

According to the new charter, it would take effect the day after the municipal election in March 2012.

In Smith’s opinion, that would mean the winning candidate in that election would serve two years, not the four mandated under the new charter. Charter advocates have generally believed that the winner in 2012 would serve four years.

The charter would also require runoff elections when no candidate in a race gets more than 50 percent.

It would also mandate that the mayor and council members get $10,000 a year; allow more council involvement in the selection of city managers; create a campaign and ethics board to monitor officials’ ethics; and require contracts for city managers.

The charter also makes the city a home-rule government, giving it flexibility from many state laws.